Lost skier survived on Mars bar and snow

John Arlidge Scotland Correspondent
Saturday 22 October 2011 23:56

A skier who spent a record three days and nights stranded in the Highlands in sub-zero temperatures survived by eating a Mars bar and handfuls of snow.

Andrew Wilson, 44, said that the snow helped him to remain conscious as he sheltered from 70mph winds in a snow-hole he had dug on a 3,000ft (900m) plateau near Braemar.

Mr Wilson was found yesterday morning by mountain rescue teams as he staggered down a hill at Glenshee. Doctors who treated him for hypothermia at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee said last night that he was "in remarkably good shape". He is expected to leave hospital tomorrow. It is thought to be the longest time, outside military exercises, that a skier has survived in such conditions in Scotland.

"As far as I am concerned he is Scotland's longest survivor on the mountains," said the rescue co-ordinator, Graham Gibb, last night. "We must have walked right past him or over the top of him because we covered the area where he had dug himself in."

Mr Wilson, of Croftfoot, Glasgow, became separated from his cross-country skiing companion, Robert McNeill, when blizzards struck the Highlands on Saturday.

In "white-out" conditions, he dug a snow shelter and climbed into his bivouac bag, where he remained until Monday evening, when a "weather window" appeared. Wind chill pushed temperatures as low as -30C during his ordeal.

With the help of a bright moon, he managed to make his way down a gully towards the main A93 road at Glenshee, where he was spotted by a Royal Navy helicopter shortly after 10am yesterday. Confused, dehydrated and suffering from extreme cold, he was lying in the snow. Last night Mr Wilson's wife, Marion, travelled to Dundee to be reunited with her husband. She said she was "immensely relieved, overjoyed and delighted" that he had been found alive. "All our prayers have been answered," she said.

Mrs Wilson, herself a cross-country skier, said her husband spent his first two nights in roughly the same area then attempted to move down the hill. At one point he saw a helicopter about 200 yards away but the crew did not spot him.

He spent a third night in a makeshift bivouac before striking out again yesterday.

Mrs Wilson said her husband made a final bid for safety yesterday morning "because he did not feel able to survive another night". Snow conditions were so difficult that Mr Wilson was forced to crawl on hands and knees at certain points during his four-day ordeal.

Mr Wilson, an accomplished outdoorsman, had not told his wife whether this experience would make him give up skiing but she added: "I certainly would not stop him ... I'm his wife, not his keeper." Emotion was running high when they met in the hospital. "He is emotional. He will talk away and then all of a sudden there is a wee crack in his voice. But he is OK."

At Ninewells Hospital doctors and rescue workers praised his resilience and "textbook mountain emergency procedure". Flight Sergeant Bill Batson, leader of the RAF Leuchars mountain rescue team, who joined the search for Mr Wilson, said: "His survival is down to his own skill and ability. He was properly dressed and is very tough. He has done exceptionally well."

Three climbers and walkers have died in the Highlands in the past 10 days.

A search for Anthony Marsh, who fell through a cornice on Ben Nevis on Saturday, was called off yesterday.

Rescue workers have all but given up hope of finding him alive.

Gale-force winds and blizzards are forecast for today.

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